Wargroove: Advance Wars Meets Super Mario Maker

I love turn based tactical RPGs. Games like Shining Force, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy Tactics. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (especially here in the West apparently), but they’re some of my favorites. Intelligent Systems, the Nintendo subsidiary that created the Fire Emblem franchise, also created a series called Famicom Wars in Japan, which is known as Advance Wars here in the States. If you know your Nintendo trivia, you’ll recognize Famicom as the Japanese name for the NES, and that the Gameboy Advance came out fifteen years later, which tells you how long it was a Japan-exclusive franchise. It was kind of like Fire Emblem with a Civilization spin, with RPG elements removed and unit building and resource collecting added, in a more modern setting (guns, tanks, planes, etc. rather than overdone fantasy RPG tropes). Personally I prefer the Fire Emblem style RPGs, but Advance Wars was pretty fun too. I always appreciated the simple twist that a unit’s health equated to strength, which encouraged more aggressive strategies, as counterattacks always deal less damage. Apparently bringing the game stateside wasn’t enough to make it profitable for Nintendo, because the last one was released on the Nintendo DS over ten years ago.

As so often happens when a big company abandons a niche franchise, it was up to indies to pick up the slack. Chucklefish, who you may know from the “Terraria in space” game Starbound, recently released a new game called Wargroove in the Advance Wars tradition. This would have me interested in and of itself, but they went one better by adding a map editor that would allow you to upload your maps and campaigns to the cloud or play others’ custom maps, à la Super Mario Maker or StarCraft II Arcade. The Advance Wars games had a map editor, but with no way to share maps online, you were pretty much stuck playing maps you designed yourself, which isn’t terribly exciting. Quite honestly, I had forgotten it was even a thing in Advance Wars until it was mentioned in some Wargroove reviews.

The graphics are really nice quality pixel art, with smooth animations and bright colors. The story is pretty good, with plenty of memorable characters, including a playable commander named Ceasar who just so happens to be a majestic golden retriever. The campaign does a great job of slowly introducing new units and their strengths and weaknesses. I like that each unit has a “critical” condition. This isn’t a random “rolled a 20” type critical as you might expect from the name, but rather a condition that, when met, allows a unit to do extra damage. For instance, if a Pikeman is standing next to another Pikeman, they do critical damage, or if an archer hasn’t moved this turn, they do critical damage. I don’t think this mechanic was ever present in an Advance Wars game (though I haven’t played them all, and it’s been a while, so I could be wrong) and it adds a surprising amount of depth to unit placement strategy. I haven’t ventured into multiplayer yet, but it includes both co-op and skirmishes, both locally and cross platform online multiplayer (between PC, Switch, and XBone only; Chucklefish recently made headlines for stating that they wanted to include PS4 in cross platform play, but were denied by Sony, despite their supposed openness to cross platform now). Casual players will be happy to know that there are a number of difficulty adjustment settings, which is nice because my one complaint about the campaign so far is that it has a few difficulty spikes.

It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy strategy games, I highly recommend this one!

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Why I’m Not Playing Guild Wars 2


For a long time, Guild Wars 2 was my go-to game. Those of you who follow me know that I tend to bounce around from game to game a lot, but Guild Wars 2 was a constant for a long time. It’s hard to pin down exactly how long, but I’m going to say it was more than five years. Then, suddenly, I realized that I really didn’t have much of a desire to log in. Normally when a game falls out of favor with me, it just sort of tapers off. There’s no moment that I can pinpoint when I am suddenly not interested anymore, I just log in less and less until I’m not logging in at all. With Guild Wars 2, however, it was fairly abrupt. There were a variety of factors, so let’s talk about them.

The first is that it seems like Path of Fire didn’t have as much to it as the previous expansion, Heart of Thorns. In retrospect, I think a lot of the reason for that is actually one of my favorite things about Path of Fire, and that is the much more reasonable difficulty. There are some masteries I still haven’t gotten in Heart of Thorns, and I didn’t have many of my elite specs filled out even by the time Path of Fire launched. PoF was a lot more solo friendly, so you didn’t have to beg zone chat for help every time you needed skill points or mastery points. It’s also a lot less grindy. It’s a weird paradox of game design that players don’t want to do boring repetitive tasks, but when those are eliminated, they also complain that they aren’t given enough tasks to do. It’s a balancing act, and I think Arenanet swung the pendulum too far in the other direction following negative feedback from HoT.

Second was that it was kind of replaced by The Elder Scrolls Online. I usually have one main MMO and one or two side games (online or off). ESO had been off-and-on one of those side games, but at some point it finally clicked and I really fell in love with the game. It’s not perfect–I voiced my ambivalence toward the combat last time–but no game is. Plus there is what seems like an endless amount of content in front of me, with most of the zone stories and some of the DLCs completely untouched. By contrast, I’ve seen and done just about everything in Guild Wars 2, aside from raiding, which doesn’t really interest me that much.

Finally, there was that one PR disaster. I don’t want to drag it back out, but the short version is that a story designer was chatting on Twitter about story design, and a player (who happened to be an Arenanet Twitch affiliate) said something in a way that was maybe a little insensitive, which she took offense to. She went off on him, which shouldn’t have happened, but Arenanet responded by firing her and another employee who got involved, which was equally excessive. Reddit trolls got involved (on both sides), and it was just a big mess. It seems weird that drama that’s completely tangential to the game like that could kill my interest in it, but it did. It made me not really like the company, and it made me like the players even less.

I can’t point to any of these things as the single root cause of my sudden, total lack of interest in Guild Wars 2, but when all of them happened at once, it made me lose all motivation to come back. That’s ok, there are plenty of other games out there, and the great thing about buy-to-play titles like Guild Wars 2 is that I can come back at any time if I feel like it. I’m sure I’ll be back next time there’s an expansion, if not at launch then when it inevitably goes on sale. But for now, Guild Wars 2 is going back on the shelf.

Combat in Elder Scrolls Online: Good or Bad?

I was running some public dungeons with my guild in Elder Scrolls Online the other day, and we started talking about all the stuff we liked about the game. One guildie started gushing about the combat, about how fluid and active and engaging it is, and another responded with “Eh… it’s ok. I prefer tab targeting.” I was kind of torn about which side to take.

Personally, my all time favorite combat in any MMO was WildStar. It was an awesome mix of action and tab target where position mattered, and you were constantly ducking out of red telegraphs. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. Too bad WildStar’s developers decided that the best thing to do with their excellent combat was to push people into ultra-hardcore endgame raiding, leading to its ultimate demise. Two MMOs’ combat styles remind me a little of WildStar, and those are Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. GW2 leans more toward the traditional, WoW-style tab target, whereas ESO leans more toward shooter-style action combat (which reflects the roots of each). GW2’s combat feels a lot better to me–I feel like I’m given better feedback when I’m doing something right, which makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing–but ESO has a lot more of the situational awareness/dodge-the-red-circles component, especially in dungeons (to a much more reasonable degree than WildStar).

Combat has, in my opinion, always been a weak point in The Elder Scrolls franchise. The main, numbered games’ combat boils down to “click to attack, click longer to attack harder.” ESO’s combat is a little more interesting, with five skill slots and an ultimate, times two swappable bars. Technically, that’s potentially more usable skills than WildStar or Guild Wars 2. So, while it feels watered down because you’re only seeing five skills at a time, if you think of it as having a ten slot bar with two different ultimate choices it’s not that different from other modern MMOs. That said, shooter/action camera has always felt unwieldy to me. I’d much rather my character only turn when I have the right mouse button down, and there are a lot of times where I’m left wondering if my fireball actually hit the things I was pointing at or if it fell just short.

I don’t hate ESO’s combat, but I don’t love it. I would rather it was a different style, but it’s not enough to overcome the things I do like about the game. It has incredible story, a great crafting system that is made even more useful by a pretty good housing system, and nice graphics. If ESO didn’t have any of that and was nothing but a bland murder hobo sim, I wouldn’t be playing it. But if the combat was absolutely painful to me, I wouldn’t stick around long enough for the things I do like.

So… I guess my position is firmly on the fence?

What are your thoughts on ESO’s combat? Do you love it, do you hate it, or do you just kind of put up with it?

ESO: To Elsweyr!

The official announcement is finally here! We’re going to Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit! And we’re getting the necromancer class! I’m excited. This will be the first expansion to come to ESO while I’m playing seriously, and its theme appeals to me a lot more than either of the other two we’ve gotten.

We’ve had a bit of a hype buildup already, starting, unfortunately, with a datamine (I tried to avoid spoilers, but they were pretty widely talked about). The Loreseekers made a good point on their podcast (S3 E9 around 26:15), that Zenimax Online did a great job of recovering gracefully from what could have been a PR disaster for them, quickly taking back the reigns of the hype train (that’s a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I’m struck by the contrast between them and ArenaNet, who, when their expansion info was leaked last year (basically because they weren’t releasing any info to hype the launch, so testers decided to take matters into their own hands), just stayed silent. They probably thought of it as refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the way ZOS handled it feels so much better as a player; quickly acknowledge that there was a leak, and tell us when official information is coming. I can see why some would feel like this is giving the leaker the attention he or she wants, but the longer leakers are the only source of information the more attention they’re going to get from other players. I’m not sure if ZOS actually moved up their timetable for announcement in response to this or not, but either way, they handled the situation expertly.

Necromancer has long been number two on my list of classes I’d love to see added to ESO, just behind Dwemer Engineer (which will probably never happen), and I know it’s been widely requested across the community as well. (Other classes on that list include bard and monk, if you were wondering) Marvel Heroes’ Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon taught me to love summoner classes, and now that that’s gone, there’s nothing out there really filling that void right now. It seems like MMOs tend to hate summoner classes, though (probably due to performance concerns) so we’ll see if necro summoner actually ends up viable. From what I’ve seen from the stream, it looks like they’ll have access to a number of temporary pets that do a variety of things, similar to Diablo’s necromancer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I’m interested to get more of the story, too. If anyone was going to get greedy and accidentally release dragons on the world, it would be Abnur Tharn. I’m hoping maybe this humbles him a little, but I’m not holding my breath. During the stream, they also really drove home the point that we’re not dragonborn, so we can’t actually kill dragons. I guess that way we have a reason to kill the same dragons repeatedly, maybe as dolmen bosses? We’ll see.

See you in the spring, and may your road lead you to warm sands.

LotRO: Never Mind, I’m Rerolling

You may recall that the last time I talked about LotRO and its Legendary Server, I had decided I was definitely going to see my warden through to 50. At this point, though, I haven’t played for a couple of weeks now because, for some reason, the last few weeks of December is super busy, and my enthusiasm for that character has waned, which has made it harder to want to log in. My warden muscle memory is getting a little rusty, and I’m so far behind the pack now (just finished up the Lone Lands) that starting over isn’t going to make much difference, though I still think I can catch up before Moria hits if I stick with it. Also, while playing warden is really fun, it’s also a little exhausting. There are so many things to keep track of! You’re constantly thinking about building gambits and gambit combos and trying to balance self healing with taunting and DoTing. I love that type of tactical, always-three-steps-ahead gameplay, and it’s very rewarding when you’re hitting everything just right, but I’m realizing that it’s not the kind of thing I want from LotRO right now. I’m more interested in a simpler, more relaxed gameplay experience. I figure, if I’m not happy with the class, I should reroll now and not feel bad about it.

So I rolled a lore-master. “But wait,” you say, “isn’t lore-master probably the next most complex class after warden?” Yes, it probably is. And I’m pretty sure they got a fairly sizable nerf not long ago too. But it has pets and DoTs and a little healing and crowd control! What’s not to love? Plus, it’s a different kind of complexity. It still has that always-three-steps-ahead feel I love about the warden, but with cast bars. You have to use all of your tricks to stay ahead of the game, but it’s more spread out and less frantic. Besides, I never said I made sense.

I’m making quick work of the lower levels. I just did most of these quests on my warden, so rather than reading and doing every possible quest, I’m trying to push myself by only doing on-level or above quests. Going from warden, a self-healing, self-buffing tanking machine, to a lore-master, a squishy caster, has been a bit of an adjustment. On a good day, though, I’m able to use my stuns to keep enemies at bay and burn them down one at a time. On a bad day… well, let’s just say I’ve been stocking up on food and health gear.

I still really want to level a minstrel healer some day, but I think lore-master is probably a better pick for me right now. My minnie is a farmer/cook, so he’s actually a decent level for never having left Ered Luin, just because of crafting XP. This has always been my problem with this game; all of the classes are so well designed that I want to try them all, but there’s so much content that I’ve never seen that I feel bad alting too much. I feel pulled in both directions and usually end up doing neither.

LotRO: An Unexpected Party

For those who don’t know, January 3rd is J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday. It’s something of a holiday among Tolkien fans (I’m a pretty casual fan; I’ve read the Hobbit and the Trilogy, but beyond that, most of what I know comes from LotRO and reading wikis), with various celebrations culminating in toasting “The Professor” at 9:00 pm your local time. I cut a piece of pie for myself (peanut butter pie isn’t very Hobbity, but it’s what I had on hand) and logged into LotRO to celebrate. I had no particular plan, so I did my Yule dailies on the Legendary server and then started puttering around Bree. That’s when I heard music coming from the stage across the street from the Prancing Pony. It was a little Tolkien Day party, with a three piece band in matching outfits and maybe a dozen humans, hobbits, dwarves, and elves gathered around enjoying it. I only caught the end, but they were doing a rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas with a “singer” /saying some fun Lord of the Rings-themed lyrics. At 9:00, they handed out free beer and toasted The Professor, and thanked him for creating an incredible world that lives on beyond him and which we now virtually inhabit.

There were bigger parties (I saw a video of a particularly big one on Landroval). I, and anyone else there, could have gone there and had a bigger community experience. The musicians could have gotten way more exposure for their guild there. But they didn’t. I like to think that it’s because they think of Arnor as their home community now, and they wanted to celebrate with them. It’s kind of how I view LotRO; there are plenty of bigger, flashier, newer MMOs out there, but I like LotRO because you don’t get experiences like that in just any game. And these weren’t “influencers” asking you to like and subscribe and follow and whatever else so they could get your ad revenue. They were just random players doing something cool for random players like me who happened to wander by.

In short, I love this game and its community, and I need to play more.

Gaming Resolutions For 2019

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making their New Year’s Resolutions! Here are a few of mine, in the realm of gaming at least.

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I just can’t justify the cost of 4K.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way.

Play More Lord of the Rings Online
I love LotRO. Every time I log in I wish I was playing more often. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get myself to log in. I don’t know how to explain it. And it happened again with the Legendary server; I started off strong, logging in almost every day, and then I fizzled out in December. I want to find a way to motivate myself to log in every day again, and get to 50 before Moria hits. Maybe start work on an alt?
Also, there’s always that looming anxiety that LotRO might not be there much longer. While I feel more confident about LotRO’s future now than at the beginning of the year, with legendary servers bringing back a bunch of players, lately Daybreak has been killing everything it touches. It’s still unclear what exactly the relationship is between Standing Stone Games and Daybreak, but it’s enough to make me nervous.

Spend Some Time In Elder Scrolls Online’s Housing
I love housing systems, but I feel like I always put off actually doing anything in them. Logging into WildStar (may it rest in piece) to get screenshots before the shutdown reminded me of all the grand plans I had for my various houses, and how little I actually got done. I’m starting to get decently well established in ESO, and I have some ideas for a few houses that I’d like to start working on.

Play More Group Content
I’m pretty comfortable playing MMOs solo or duo with my wife. That’s great, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d like to start getting into dungeons more. After all, why play a massively multiplayer game, join a guild, etc. if you’re going to play alone? Ok, there are a lot of really good reasons, but the point is, I’d like to start doing dungeons (and possibly larger group content?) more often in ESO, LotRO, and whatever other MMOs the new year brings. I really enjoyed tanking some dungeons during ESO’s Undaunted event (despite the buggy/overloaded group finder), and I’ve had the itch to do some healing again as well.

Publish A Game
I tend to start a lot of game dev projects and not finish them, and lately I’ve been thinking about why. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been hearing this advice for years now that you should “make the kind of game you’d like to play.” The problem is that the kind of game I like to play is large in scope, deep in complexity, and rich in story. That’s why I play so many MMOs and RPGs. But my first published game (created by, at most, me and two or three friends) just isn’t going to be any of those things. Maybe one of them at best. I think I need to lower my personal expectations to making a game that I wouldn’t pay more than five dollars for. That’s not settling, that’s walking before I run. I don’t need to be Pixel or Notch or ConcernedApe or any number of other developers whose first published game was a labor of love masterpiece.